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    Thursday, 22 March 2018

    Is MMA's revival proof that religious parties failed to partnering with mainstream party?

    The religious parties have come together in anticipation of a general election. The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal has been revived, with the JUI-F and Jamaat-i-Islami taking the main offices ie president and general secretary.
    The grouping is supposed to be representative of all shades of opinions on the right of the political spectrum. But while it does reflect some election-specific agreement among a wide range of views, many groups, which are at the moment striving to assert their roles with far more persistence than the MMA components, are not part of the alliance.
    One purpose of the MMA then would be to contain the extremist influence, besides aiming for the main objective of capturing power where it can or at least attaining a bargaining position in places such as KP. The decision of the various parties to be part of the alliance, especially the JUI-F and JI, raises significant questions.
    Is the revival of the MMA proof that these parties had lost all hope of striking some kind of a partnership with a strong mainstream party? Or was a grouping of these right-wing outfits thought to be their best bet to attract votes in the general election? Perhaps a bit of both led to the MMA’s restoration.In the run-up to the elections, none among the so-called secular parties has appeared keen to embrace a religious party. There was also realisation of the need to consolidate the religious vote bank and to offer a united countrywide front. It was the religious parties’ answer to the seemingly more popular, ‘secular’ parties to their left and the extremist option emerging on their right, in KP, Balochistan and elsewhere.
    It cannot after all be a coincidence that the formal declaration of the revival of the MMA took place in a very important and supposedly conducive Karachi. The city is thought to be struggling to find the right party to back in the next poll after the collapse of the MQM there.
    Reviving old times when religious parties exercised considerable influence over the voters in Karachi would perhaps be one of the aims of the MMA. The parties have been trying on their own but there are as yet few indications of a return to those times when they thrived in certain parts of the country.
    The MMA is out to exercise an option that emanates from a compulsion collectively and strongly felt. 
    After months of efforts by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a decision has finally been reached to revive the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), which was first formed in 2002 amid political turmoil at the international and local levels.
    At first glance, it seems that circumstances are again ripe on both fronts for the rise of this right-wing alliance of religious parties, which earlier governed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province under the Pervez Musharraf regime.
    At that time, there were strong anti-US sentiments in the Muslim world following unilateral American attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan. On the local front, the heads and leaderships of the two mainstream political parties — Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party — were in exile with no hopes of returning anytime soon.
    Today, the Muslim world is plagued by similar crises: the Trump administration’s undermining of the Palestinian cause by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar and the turmoil in the Middle East.On the local front, the question of the finality of the Prophethood (peace be upon him) has become a flashpoint for religious sentiment across the country, while political instability has been the order of the day since the Supreme Court disqualified three-time former PM Nawaz Sharif in July.
    In such circumstances, it seems only natural that these former allies would band together again.
    The reformed MMA will include a faction of the Jamiat-i-Ulema Pakistan (JUP) headed by Awais Noorani, son of the late JUP-Noorani leader Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani.
    Others notables include the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), the Allama Sajid Naqvi-led Islami Tehreek and the Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadith, headed by Senator Sajid Mir.
    It has already been decided that MMA component parties would distance themselves from the ruling coalition wherever they are part of the government, be it the provincial or national level. However, the timing of this separation would be decided in a meeting of the heads of these five parties, scheduled to be held on Jan 18, 2018.
    The alliance is expected to launch its public contact drive from early 2018 as it gears up for the upcoming elections, and is likely to use issues such as interest-free economy, the Al Quds controversy, and the issue of the finality of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) as their rallying cry.
    In the developing situation, only two of the MMA component parties appear to have a significant role to play in parliament or the provincial assemblies.
    The JI is partner in the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI)-led KP government, and the party position in the KP Assembly is as follows: PTI 61, Govt-allied Independents 2, PML-N 16, Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) 10, Awami National Party (ANP) 5, PPP 6, JUI-F 16, and JI 7.
    The total strength of the PTI-led coalition is 70 in a house of 123, and figures taken from the assembly’s official website show that even if the JI decides to quit the coalition, the PTI would remain the leading party with 61 MPAs in the KP Assembly.
    There are 124 sanctioned MPA seats in KP, but one seat remains vacant due to the assassination of Sardar Soran Singh, who was killed in April 2016. The next PTI minority MPA who was in line to be Sardar Singh’s successor is being investigated for the murder.
    Besides, two PTI MPAs — Amjad Afridi and Ziaullah Afridi — have been evicted from the party.
    But the emergence of the MMA isn’t likely to have any significant impact on the provincial government, since the PML-N is in no position to form a majority, even if its 16 members join hands with Aftab Sherpao’s 10 Qaumi Watan Party lawmakers.
    On the other hand, the combined strength of the five ANP and six PPP MPAs is also insufficient to cause any major changes.
    If the MMA does decide to flex its muscle in the provincial legislature, they will have a combined strength of 16 JUI-F and seven JI members, giving them a 23-member faction in the assembly. At the national level, the PML-N commands a majority of 188 members in a house of 341 — a coalition that includes 13 MNAs from the JUI-F.
    While the disassociation of the JUI-F from the government is not likely to leave a mark on the ruling party’s strength in the lower house, a JUI-F and JI alliance will give them only 17 MNAs, which is still less than the MQM’s 24 members.
    In the Senate, the lone seat that may be affected is that of Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadith chief, Prof Sajid Mir, who was elected on a PML-N ticket.
    The parties led by Allama Sajid Naqvi and Awais Noorani, however, do not have presence in the country’s legislatures.
    The revival of the MMA also faces certain challenges, chief among which is the infighting among the various factions of the JUP, with the group led by Sahibzada Abul Khair Zubair not even being invited to join.
    The sixth religio-political party that was a major part of the old MMA — Maulana Samiul Haq’s JUI-S — has now decided to stick with the PTI in the next elections. “The doors of the MMA are open for Maulana Samiul Haq, but the entry of any other party will be decided by the heads of MMA component parties at a later stage,” Allama Arif Wahidi, central secretary general of the Shia Ulema Council,told this scribe.
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